Progress monitoring visits of grade three and four FE providers will end from March 15 as inspections of new providers finally restart, Ofsted has announced today.

The watchdog has been carrying out remote progress monitoring visits to poorly graded colleges and providers since January in place of routine in-person inspections, which have been suspended during the pandemic.

But the inspectorate updated its operational guidance this morning to state it will “discontinue” the check-ups from next week other than in “exceptional cases”.

This could happen when, for example, “it has already been necessary to engage additional planning and resources for a visit and we believe that to be the most appropriate means of monitoring progress at this time”.

Ofsted said the decision was taken after reviewing its face-to-face inspection activity following the government’s announcement about the return to onsite education from March 8.

Full and short inspections will remain suspended for the time being.

But, as reported by FE Week on Friday, the watchdog will begin carrying out “new provider monitoring visits (NPMVs) to new providers that have not yet received a monitoring visit” again from March 15.

Ofsted said it considers this group to be the “highest priority for face-to-face inspection activity”.

FE Week understands the Education and Skills Funding Agency has grown increasingly concerned with new apprenticeship providers operating for prolonged periods without oversight from the watchdog.

The inspectorate has also expressed its own concerns about the quality of new providers’ training.

Ofsted confirmed today that the ESFA will take into account the outcome of these NPMVs when making intervention decisions as usual, such as about apprenticeships starts and registration.

They will be carried out in the same way as before the suspension of routine inspection activity but the impact of Covid-19 will be taken into account in the findings and progress judgements.

Ofsted said it will not carry out an NPMV to any provider that has level 6 and/or 7 apprenticeships provision before 1 April 2021, from which date the inspectorate takes on responsibility for overseeing this provision form the Office of Students.

The inspectorate said it will give up to two working days’ notice of an NPMV and each visit will normally last for two days.

Providers can request to defer the inspection in “exceptional circumstances” and each case will be judged “separately on its own merit”.

Ofsted added today that it will continue to carry out emergency monitoring visits or inspections “if we have a significant cause for concern, such as about safeguarding or a breakdown in leadership and management”. These will be carried out onsite, “wherever possible”.